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Sherley Anne Williams

Sherley Anne Williams (1944-1999) was an American poet, novelist, and literary critic. She was known for her powerful and evocative writings that explored themes of race, gender, and identity in America. Williams was born on August 25, 1944, in Bakersfield, California. Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in English from California State University, Fresno, and went on to pursue her master’s and doctoral degrees in literature from Brown University. She became one of the first African American women to receive a Ph.D. in English from Brown.

In her poetry, Williams often drew on her personal experiences as a Black woman, exploring the complexities of racial identity and the struggles faced by African Americans. Her poetry collections include “The Peacock Poems” (1975), “Dessa Rose” (1986), and “Touch Me, Touch Me Not” (1993). Williams was praised for her lyrical style and her ability to blend personal narratives with broader social and political themes.

Sherley Anne Williams and son Malcolm, c. 1973. Sherley had shown up for her UCSD interview with Malcolm, then three years old. “Sherley’s willingness to go it alone was a part of her character.”

In addition to her poetry, Williams also wrote novels and works of criticism. Her novel “Dessa Rose” tells the story of two women, one enslaved and one white, who form a bond of friendship and resistance in the antebellum South. The novel received critical acclaim and was later adapted into a musical. Williams was also a respected literary critic and published essays and reviews on African American literature and culture. She explored the works of other writers, such as Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, in her critical writings.

Throughout her career, Sherley Anne Williams received numerous awards and honors for her contributions to literature, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. She was also a professor of African American literature at the University of California, San Diego.

Tragically, Williams passed away on July 6, 1999, at the age of 54. Her writings continue to be celebrated for their lyrical beauty, social commentary, and exploration of African American experiences. Sherley Anne Williams remains an influential figure in American literature, particularly in the realm of African American poetry and fiction.

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